6 EdTech Resources and Strategies to Gain a Deeper Understanding of Students

By Tom Driscoll (@Mr_Driscoll)

A foundational piece of any learner-centered approach involves gaining a deeper understanding of our students. We know that learner variability exists, and research suggests it is growing in classrooms across the nation. It is therefore essential to personalize instruction based upon learner differences if we are going to ensure that all students thrive in our schools. To do this effectively, we must develop a more nuanced understanding of each students’ particular abilities and needs.

The key strategy to get to this level of understanding involves a tried-and-true instructional practice: formative assessments and feedback.  Not only has ongoing formative assessment and quality feedback been honed by teachers for years, it has also become recognized as a core element of personalized learning environments, as highlighted in Rhode Island’s Personalized Learning Whitepaper.  So what are some main characteristics of these assessment practices?

Although the specific approaches vary, strong practices typically include the following elements:

  • Students have a clear understanding of their learning targets.
  • Students have access to models of strong and weak work.
  • Students are provided with timely and descriptive feedback.
  • Students learn to set goals, self-assess, monitor their progress over time.
  • Teachers design mini-lessons to focus on one aspect of quality at a time.

Source: (Chappuis, Stiggins, Chappuis, & Arter, 2012) Learn more in BWRSD’s Lens on Teaching and Learning.

As educators across the nation have adopted these high impact assessment strategies, there has been considerable advancement in educational technologies that help amplify the effectiveness of these practices. As discussed in the most recent National Educational Technology Plan, emerging assessment technologies can help “provide a more complete and nuanced picture of student needs, interests, and abilities.”  The visual below shows how these advanced tools can help educators collect various forms of information and performance data that is embedded within the learning process.

Next-generation assessments can also provide data and visualizations that assist teachers in gaining a more accurate and nuanced understanding of each student.  These tools help educators provide students with targeted and, in some cases, real-time feedback in ways that were never before possible at scale. Check out this video by the Data Quality Campaign to learn more about how various forms of student data can be leveraged to personalized instruction and help families play a more active role in their child’s education.  You Need Data to Personalize Learning

Assessment Strategies and EdTech Resources in Action

Here are 6 examples demonstrating how emerging educational technologies can help us amplify assessment strategies and gain a deeper understanding of our students.

Tool:  iReady (Adaptive Math/ELA Assessment & Instruction)

Used primarily in Elementary schools, with increasing use in Middle Schools, iReady is an adaptive learning software that provides online assessments, instruction and lesson resources for educators.

Educator Strategies:  

“Data from iReady helps differentiate instruction in Math. After students take the iReady diagnostic test, I am able to use the results to see what each child’s strengths are and what they need to work on. I can use the information on the IReady site to see what learning path iReady has developed for my students and use the automatic grouping and targeted instruction for those groups during math instruction time.”  

“With iReady all students take a beginning-of-the-year diagnostic assessment. Data obtained from this test is used to create homogeneous groups and inform instruction based on students’ needs. iReady is also used as an instructional tool. Since this program is adaptive, all students are able to receive instruction at their individual level and move at their own pace. Periodic growth checks and the midyear assessment allow for continuous feedback which enables the adjustment of instruction.”

Tool: Flipgrid (Video Discussion Platform)

This rapidly emerging edtech tool is being used across all grade levels and content areas in schools across the nation.  The asynchronous (not live) nature of the video discussions make it more versatile in classroom environments and enables students to learn and demonstrate understanding through verbal communication. (Or in other ways such as music performance…)

Educator Strategies:

“If students are struggling in my grade 3 class with a lesson, we have student coaches on Flipgrid that helps them think it through and differentiates even more during an intervention.”

Learn more about this strategy here.   

More ways that we leverage FlipGrid at BWRSD here.

Tool: GiveThx (Peer Feedback & Reflection Platform)

This new platform aims to help students develop competencies that are aligned to SEL (Social Emotional Learning.)  Although far from a traditional assessment program, this tool can help students reflect on and build SEL skills and dispositions.

Strategy:

“GiveThx is a platform that allows for students and teachers to build a practice of gratitude while encouraging community building. Through each message of thanks, students choose a tag (compassion, joy, kindness, friendship, patience, etc.) that the other student is being recognized for. The platform shows students the tags they have received or been recognized for in graph format.”   Learn more about GiveThx Here.

Tool:  Formative (Assessment & Feedback Platform)

This versatile edtech tool is designed primarily for grades 3+ and is liked by educators who are looking for ways to have students demonstrate understanding beyond mulitple choice questions and text.  The annotate and draw feature provides students with more options to show what they know, and the real-time dashboard can help educators identify examples of strong and weak work live during class. (There is a helpful feature to hide student names when projecting if needed…)  

Educator Strategy

“To track class data on Ready Common Core lessons we use Formative. We upload and transform a PDF from Ready Teacher Tool Kit before ISMs as a practice quiz or lesson to help guide students. Students can see other students working on the projection of the Formative teacher view. This helps struggling students along as well as the teacher that can intervene when it matters the most.”  

Tool:  SeeSaw (Assessment, Feedback, Learning Journal)

SeeSaw is a powerful tool that can be used to create and curate various types of learning artifacts.  Students can leverage SeeSaw to capture learning and reflect through audio, video or text. It can also be used to visuals growth over time as artifacts can be tagged to specific topics or skills.  Another benefit of this tool is how seamlessly families can be included in the learning and reflection process. This not only helps teacher gain a deeper understanding of their students, but families also can take part in their child’s learning experiences and discover their strengths and interests. Check out the resource linked below to learn more about SeeSaw and how it can be leveraged for assessments, student reflection, parent communication and more.

BWRSD SeeSaw for Schools Resource Page

Educators Strategies:

Several ways we use SeeSaw at BWRSD Here

Tool:  STAR  (Diagnostic Assessment and Progress Monitoring Platform)

STAR is a widely used tool used by schools across the nation for math and ELA assessments and progress monitoring.

Educators Strategies:

“I use STAR data in many ways. I use STAR data to create Boost class rosters based on areas of need. STAR offers a multitude of ways (maybe too many!), to disaggregate data that allows me see class trends or commonalities in areas of need so that I can design instruction that best

meets the needs of the students in front of me. We also use STAR forstudent goal setting.”

“ I use PARCC/RICAS data to craft my Student Learning Objectives (SLOs).  The needs /struggles of the group determine the skills for which I will create lessons. As the SLO data indicates growth for individuals, I am able to differentiate subsequent lessons. I also use STAR data in the same way. Certain skills are highlighted as weaknesses.  These common weaknesses become lesson objectives. We use STAR data to group students within the heterogeneous classroom based on areas of need. I can design instruction that best meets the common needs of the small group of students within the large group.”


These six are by no means all the edtech tools and strategies that educators are exploring across the country, but they do provide examples of how we are shifting from traditional to next-generation assessments that enable us to gain a deeper understanding of our students.  And with this deeper understanding of students, we are then able to personalize instruction to meet their unique needs in ways never before possible.

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